by Curt Finch

The Consumerization of IT in the Eyes of a Young College Student

Aug 08, 20114 mins
CIOComputers and PeripheralsConsumer Electronics

Welcome to the new S쳮ding in Consumerization of IT blog. I will use this space to observe current consumerization of IT trends as well as how history continues to shape the future.

Let’s go back to the early 80’s…

When I was in my 20s, I worked in the computer lab of Babcock & Wilcox.  I thought the Apple Macintosh was the coolest thing I’d ever seen; the first successful PC to use a Graphical User Interface.  IBM’s PC was gaining traction among the workers at B&W.  The rise of the PC was just beginning in the early 80’s, and it was starting to trickle into the workplace.

Back then, an employee’s computer was provided by the company and the head of IT was responsible for providing and maintaining it.  Suddenly, with the awareness of the possibilities of a PC, the B&W IT head kept getting requests from workers to have their own PCs at their desks all the time.   Not only that, but the employees wanted IBM or Apple, the most popular PC systems at the time.  The head of IT, however, insisted that B&W keep up its relationship with Digital Equipment and instead provided all employees with Rainbow PCs.

The Rainbow PCs did not go over well among the employees.  The Rainbow PC wasn’t made with pre-installed applications like the IBM and Apple PCs.  The Rainbow 100 simply wasn’t designed with what users were starting to get used to in the computer market.  The breaking point came when a company lawyer, in a fit of frustration, threw his Rainbow PC in the trash and proclaimed to the IT head that he was never using the Rainbow again.  From then on, the lawyer brought his own IBM PC from home to the office.  Soon after, the rest of the company brought in their own PCs and abandoned the Rainbow PCs altogether. 

That was the first time I saw the crowd overrun the IT Department.  Unfortunately, I had no idea that the incident with the company lawyer had happened when I suggested to the IT head that the company provide Macintoshes to all employees.  His face got very red in anger and he said, “Nobody wants to use a graphic user interface!  People are offended by that graphical stuff!  They think it’s condescending, like they’re being treated like babies.  Everybody wants to use command line!”  And being the sarcastic kid I was, I replied, “Sure they do.”  (What can I say?  I was a punk.) 

The consumerization of IT is not a new topic.  It’s definitely a big buzz topic right now, which is why this blog is completely devoted to it, but it’s been happening for at least 30 years.  Those workers at B&W didn’t grow up with computers like the next generation of workers did.  But even then, their computer knowledge was being influenced by the computer market itself.  Workers are only going to get smarter with technology, so your company has to, as well.  Why?  Because your workers will rebel against out of date technology if they know there is better technology available.

So how do you avoid one of your employees throwing your company technology in the trash?  By listening to your workers, paying attention to new technology, and expanding your view of what IT in your company really means.  By looking at the past, we can better understand our present and future.  I will use this space to observe current consumerization of IT trends, such as what disruptions the technology is causing, what CIOs and other managers need to plan for, security issues, integration issues, privacy issues, policy issues and legal issues, as well as how history continues to shape the future.  My goal is to have an interactive column where your real life experiences and research plays an active part in the comments section. 

Were you in the workforce in the early 80’s?  Do you have a similar story?  I want to hear about it!